NBC News, Fox News Polls Show Huge Opportunities for GOP on the Border and Immigration

Call it a ‘stunt’, but Republican governors have pushed illegal migration to the fore

By Andrew R. Arthur on September 21, 2022

In recent posts, I have explained that Republican candidates with strong immigration messages have a big opportunity to win votes in the November midterm elections. Two recent polls, one from NBC News and the other from Fox News, underscore this trend and reveal that voters’ support for Republican border policies is increasing as the election nears. Sensible immigration policies and a strong border message provide an opening for the GOP in a tight election — if the party were to promote such positions.

NBC News. The NBC News poll was conducted by Hart Research Associates/Public Opinion Strategies and surveyed 1,000 registered voters between September 9 and 13.

Twenty-seven percent of those polled asserted that the United States is headed in the right direction, compared to 68 percent who believed it was “off on the wrong track”.

That was an improvement from August polling, when just 21 percent believed that the country was headed in the right direction, and nearly three-quarters of respondents — 74 percent — asserted that it was on the wrong track.

Sixteen percent of those who think the country is on the wrong track blamed “border control/illegal immigration”, tied for second as the leading reason for our decline with “divided nation/political division”. The “economy/inflation” was in the top spot among those who believe that the United States is headed the wrong way, with 41 percent identifying it as the reason for the nation’s negative course.

Note that among those who believe the country is on the wrong track, more blame illegal immigration and the border than “Joe Biden” and “gas prices” (tied at 14 percent among wrong-track respondents), “crime/violence/killings” (13 percent), and “women’s reproductive rights debate” (5 percent).

Not surprisingly, the president receives low marks on his handling of immigration in that poll. Thirty-six percent of those polled approved of Biden’s handling of immigration, compared to 54 percent who disapproved.

That’s a slight improvement for the president from May 2022, when 34 percent approved of his job performance on immigration and 58 percent disapproved, but aside from the cost of living (30 percent approval vs. 65 percent disapproval), it’s the area in which Biden received his lowest marks.

When asked what the most important issue facing the country was, 12 percent identified “immigration and the situation at the border”, making it the fourth most important issue on voters’ minds, trailing “jobs and the economy” (16 percent), “cost of living” (18 percent), and the ambiguous choice of “threats to democracy” (20 percent).

When given a second choice, however, immigration and the border was chosen by 26 percent of those polled, just slightly edged out by “threats to democracy” (27 percent) and trailing the “cost of living” (33 percent) and “jobs and the economy” (34 percent).

By contrast, just 8 percent chose “abortion” when given one choice and 18 percent picked that issue when given two. That is a significant margin of interest between immigration and the border on the one hand and abortion on the other, given that Democrats are hanging their electoral hopes on the latter issue in the midterm elections.

In that vein, it also represents a surge among those concerned about immigration and the border from May, when those issues were the most important for just 9 percent of respondents (20 percent for those given the choice of two issues), trailing abortion, which was the first choice of 10 percent of those polled, and 22 percent as a combined choice.

Why does that provide an opportunity for the GOP? Because the NBC News poll reveals that while 20 percent of respondents believe that Democrats would do a better job of dealing with border security, a whopping 56 percent think that Republicans’ handling of that issue would be better — a 36 percent margin between the two parties on that issue.

Compare that to October 2021, when polling showed 21 percent of voters thought Democrats would do a better job handling border security compared to 48 percent who opted for Republican control of the issue — a still significant 27-point difference, but nothing like the latest polling.

Note that the October poll was completed just after the border disaster at Del Rio, Texas, when 15,000 to 30,000 migrants crossed the Rio Grande illegally in mid-September, swamping DHS’s ability to handle them and transforming that erstwhile sleepy border town into a scene from a Third-World country.

As I wrote at the time, “’Del Rio’ is now shorthand for a border in chaos,” a “problem that has only been made worse by the confusion coming out of the Biden administration”. In late September polling, the importance of immigration in the minds of voters jumped, as I then explained.

The surge of support for Republican handling of border security in the most recent polling has likely been the result of efforts by Republican governors in Texas, Arizona, and Florida to transport migrants caught and released by DHS at the border to Democratic strongholds in D.C., New York, Chicago, and Martha’s Vineyard.

While those efforts have been derided by the governors’ opponents as “stunts”, respectfully, most political acts (including and especially party-line legislation, like the questionably named “Inflation Reduction Act”) can be termed as such. They only become stunts when the other side recognizes they have been successful and need to be swept under the carpet.

This has also been reflected in the NBC News polling asking voters which party would do a better job in handling the separate issue of immigration. While a more significant proportion of respondents, 29 percent, stated that Democrats would do a better job, 46 percent gave Republicans the edge, a 17-point margin for the GOP.

Compare that to past NBC News polling on this question. Last October, Republicans only held a nine-point margin (39 percent to 30 percent for Democrats) when it came to which party would do a better job in handling immigration. More significantly, in October 2020 (a month before the presidential election), Democrats came out on top by six points, with 44 percent of respondents preferring the way they would handle immigration to 36 percent who preferred Republicans. Talk about “buyer’s remorse”.

Fox News. The Fox News poll, which was conducted by Braun Research between September 9 and 12 and surveyed 1,201 registered voters, revealed similar trends.

In that poll, just 32 percent of respondents approved of President Biden’s handling of immigration, compared to 60 percent who disapproved (a 28-point margin). In similar polling conducted in July, disapproval of the job that Biden was doing on immigration was slightly higher (61 percent), but his approval was higher as well (at 34 percent), for a 27-point margin.

That is the lowest approval rating that Biden has received when it comes to his handling of immigration, with the (minor) exception of November polling, when just 31 percent approved, but also when only 59 percent of respondents disapproved of the job he was doing (again, a 28-point margin).

That said, while immigration was not as big a motivator for midterm voters in the Fox News poll as it was in the NBC News poll, it is still a significant driver.

When respondents were asked what one issue would motivate them to vote this year, “Inflation/Cost of living / Gas prices” came in first, at 19 percent, followed by “Abortion/Roe v. Wade” (16 percent), “Jobs/Economy” (15 percent), and “Voting out Democrats/Anti-Biden” (7 percent).

“Immigration” came in a close fifth, with 6 percent of respondents choosing it as the one issue that would drive them to the polls. Note, however, that unlike the other ranked choices, which included more than one subject area, immigration stood alone, and was not linked to either “the border” or “border security”.

Why would that make a difference? In October 2018, when Fox News conducted a similar poll, “Immigration Reform” was offered as an issue that would motivate voters (7 percent), but so was “border security” (5 percent). Based on the NBC News polling, I believe that a ranked choice of “Immigration/Border Security” would have easily broken double digits, but then I am not a pollster.

Other support for that conclusion can be found in the Fox News poll itself, however. When respondents were asked about “border security” in terms of which party would do a better job of handling it, 34 percent chose Democrats while 56 percent picked the GOP, for a 28-point margin in favor of the Party of Lincoln.

That is the biggest edge for Republicans among 14 separate issues that Fox News polled, far outpacing other choices like “inflation and higher prices” (a nine-point edge in favor of the GOP) and “crime” (where the current minority party enjoys a 13-point edge). For what it’s worth, the September poll shows the biggest advantage that the party has had on the issue of border security in Fox News’ polling history (which goes back to July 2006).

What It Means. Few American voters have ever been, or will ever go, to the border, but by transporting illegal migrants released by Biden’s DHS to Democrat-controlled northern cities, Governors Greg Abbott (R-Texas), Doug Ducey (R-Ariz.), and Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) have brought the border to major metropolitan areas and pushed the humanitarian disaster there into the headlines.

That has created an opening for their fellow Republicans who are seeking congressional seats in November. Many Republicans, particularly in leadership, however, appear to be hesitant to push immigration and border security in the 2022 midterm campaign, likely due to concerns that it will turn off Independents and those in the swing suburbs.

That’s in error, because both the NBC News and Fox News polling reveals that voters support Republican positions on both immigration and border security by wide margins. Now that the electorate has seen the drain a small number of migrants has created on resources in wealthy areas like D.C., Manhattan, and Cape Cod, it has brought the larger border disaster into clear relief.

If Republicans were to find the courage of their convictions and campaign on securing a Southwest border that poses a national-security risk and on limiting the tsunami of illegal migrants, it would give them a significant leg up in November. At the moment, however, that’s a pretty big “if”.